Thursday, 18 October 2012

Birmingham Book Festival: Ray Tallis, In Defence of Wonder

My third event at the Birmingham Book Festival, on October 10th, was a talk by Ray Tallis, a philosopher, writer and former professor of geriatric medicine, who was giving a talk entitled In Defence of Wonder, based on his latest book.

Again, I was lucky enough to catch all of the talk this time around, as the event took place in the New Street branch of Waterstones. Once we'd pushed all the book displays to one side there was just enough room to fit everyone in! Ray's talk covered a lot of topics in a short space of time, including some thoughts on the mind and the brain and how we know (or don't) who we are and what we are and why we're here. There was also some talk about the nature of the unconscious, and his dislike of Lacan and post-structuralist theory.

What stood out most for me was the idea, discussed by Ray, of the extent to which humans are able to see "wonder" in everyday (and not everyday) things. One of the questions from the audience brought up the idea that many people, after suffering from a lengthy or life-threatening illness, come out of the other side of it with a new found desire to "live everyday as if it's your last". The audience member questioned why this state of mind seems to be possible only once something terrible or monumental has happened, and whether it is possible to harness that same approach to life without having experienced a devastating event beforehand. (That's not to say that there was an answer to this question, but rather that it was an interesting discussion!) He also talked a little bit about being an atheist humanist, and the insistence on defining himself as "atheist" rather than "agnostic", as other people have suggested to him (and as came up in the Q&A).

I wasn't sure what to expect when I volunteered for this event, but it turned out to be an interesting evening, with lots to think about!

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